By Kenneth R. Samples – July 23, 2019
What is the best Christian book of all time? (Outside of the Bible, of course.) And how could something as grand as that claim ever be determined? Well, scholars are typically never afraid to take on big challenges.
In a bracket reminiscent of the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament, several years ago members of InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network picked 64 great books written by Christian authors in four categories: (1) Theology & Apologetics, (2) Christian Life & Discipleship, (3) Fiction & Poetry, and (4) Memoirs, Devotionals, & Spirituality. At the end of the voting, St. Augustine’s Confessions emerged as “The Best Christian Book of All Time.”1
C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity was runner-up, with J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship rounding out the final four. The elite eight also included The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, The City of God by Augustine, and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. So both Augustine and Lewis had two books in the final eight selections—an amazing accomplishment for two of Christendom’s finest thinkers and writers.
A Winner for All Times
Considered both a literary and a Christian devotional classic, Augustine’s Confessions is one of my favorite Christian books. I’ve read the book numerous times, yet, like all great books, it continues to challenge me intellectually, morally, and spiritually. The great educator Mortimer Adler defined a classic as a book that a reader can never exhaust. The Confessions is listed in all of the great books programs offered in various institutions in America.
Confessions, written about AD 397, gave birth to the autobiography, a new literary genre in Western culture. The work chronicles Augustine’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual pilgrimage from paganism to Christianity. The title “Confessions” can be understood in a triple sense: Augustine’s candid and contrite confession of sin, his sincere confession of newfound faith, and his grateful confession of God’s greatness.
The content of Confessions may provide the most penetrating spiritual and psychological self-analysis of any work ever written. Suffusing his work with profound theological, philosophical, and apologetics insights, Augustine quoted from and expounded on the Scriptures throughout. He devoted the latter part of the book to an exegetical analysis of Genesis’s first chapters (the created world being the cosmic setting for the soul’s journey to God). Written in the form of a prayer to God (similar to the Psalms), the work also serves as thought-provoking devotional literature.
While Confessions records Augustine’s extraordinary life and spiritual pilgrimage, the book may really be about the human soul’s search for God. In reading it, people often feel they are reading about their own search for God. It’s no surprise to me that a group of scholars ranked Confessions as the best Christian book ever written. After reading it for yourself, you will likely agree.
- If you would like to read more about St. Augustine and his various writings, I invite you to read my new book Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction.
- Here is my introduction to Augustine’s Confessions.
Have you read Augustine’s Confessions? If not, does its being voted the number one Christian book motivate you to pick it up? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
- Micheal Hickerson, “The Best Christian Book of All Time: the Winner,” Emerging Scholars Blog (blog), April 5, 2013, https://blog.emergingscholars.org/2013/04/the-best-christian-book-of-all-time-the-winner/.
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